How I Spent The Last Saturday Before Christmas

Sat 22 Dec 2013

Last night The Boss swung past the vet’s to pick up Foster Cat’s body from their freezer. They gave him to us in a big biodegradable cardboard box. We drove over to our old house late last night so we could bury him today at a pet cemetery close by. The Boss hasn’t been too affected by the old boy’s death up till now – partly because he was getting very fed up cleaning up the pee and poo he’d been decorating the house with, partly because Foster Cat had sprayed him a few times, and partly because I was the cat’s main carer – but carrying the little coffin from the boot of the car to our garage (very cold overnight) upset him. I’m glad we got to take him ‘home’ briefly because I think he loved living in this little town. He was well-known in our street, marching up and down that hill a few times a day with the kids! (He’d walk us all down to school, then sit and wait under a bush till I and at least one minx came back again, then shepherd us back up the hill, rounding up any straggling girls).

DSCF8148We went to the pet cemetery this morning and met the man who runs it. He does it out of the goodness of his heart and won’t accept payment (though he thankfully did accept a donation that we gave him to use as he sees fit, whether to buy supplies for the cemetery or to gift to a charity of his choice). It’s a beautiful place. He’d already dug a hole and picked out some stones to Foster Cat’s grave.

Westerly view

Westerly view

The ‘ceremony’ itself was a bit awkward, but in hindsight I think it was important to ‘end’ everything for the girls. The man made it really lovely for us as best he could: he wheeled Foster Cat’s coffin a few metres to the grave in his wheelbarrow, then he and The Boss took the cat out the box. I wasn’t expecting that, and wasn’t really prepared to see my lovely old boy again, dead, with his ears bent over with rigor mortis. Still, it did give us the chance to see that the

Northerly view

Northerly view

vet had taken the trouble to wrap Foster Cat lovingly in his fluffy blanket with his wee head peeping out, like he was tucked in the box for bed. The youngest 2 didn’t seem fazed by this, but sensitive Maxi Minx started to cry. I hurriedly reminded the kids that this wasn’t Foster Cat; this was just what was left of his body, now, and to remember that he wasn’t hurting anymore. I’d had a 60 second sort of memorial speech ready, but it kind of got bombed out the water with the sudden and unexpected appearance of the cat!

Easterly view

Easterly view

After The Boss and the man lowered Foster Cat into the hole, the man covered over Foster Cat’s head with the blanket. Maxi Minx dropped in a be-ribboned posy that we’d made that morning from all the flowers that were still in bloom in our garden (I know – at the end of December! Mad!), and bits from some of the plants that Foster Cat had liked to hide under. The man covered up the grave, then gently pressed it in with his feet. Mini and Midi wailed at him standing on the cat, so I quickly said “Tuck, tuck, tuck!”, which is a kind of code I’ve used since the girls were tiny: I say it as I’m tucking them into bed every night, and quietly again when they’re asleep and I have to tuck a little minx limb back under the sheets. I distracted the kids by telling them my favourite stories about Foster Cat while the man ‘tucked him in’ with sand from the harbour, then put on another dressy layer of pea gravel. On top of that, I put some painted stones that the girls had painted last year. They’d suggested themselves that we use those stones to decorate Foster Cat’s grave. Maxi used a stone to press in a paw imprint in the stones at the bottom.

The kids then legged it to explore the rest of the cemetery, The Boss trailing, while I stayed and chatted with the man for a while. Eventually we all left. I looked back to see the man stood still by Foster Cat’s grave for a long while, motionless. What a lovely old soul he is!

DSCF8156This evening I painted Foster Cat’s name and date of death on a lovely, heavy, flat stone I picked up from Bertha’s Beach, Falkland Islands, in 1999. I’d been keeping it to paint a landscape on, or maybe something to mark the house, but I figured it was better used as a kind of headstone. I’ll put it above his stone rainbow on the way back to Aberdeenshire tomorrow and take some photos.

Edit: photos now up. I’ve also included ones that show what a lovely spot the cemetery is at – wonderful views of the Moray Firth dolphins, cormorants and seals.

After the cat’s ‘funeral’, we went to a local cafe for big, late breakfasts. After the minxes were happily troughing (Maxi chose a very sophisticated scrambled egg and smoked salmon on a bagel), I commented that sitting quietly, eating, and sharing funny stories of the cat, made it feel like we were at a wake. It was actually just what we needed.

That lovely pause and reflection over, we were booted brutally back into the reality of the last shopping Saturday before Christmas when we stopped at Elgin for something to eat that night. In the carpark, a woman in an oversized Chelsea Tractor made a real mess of reversing out her space. She managed to mount the pavement, graze a lamp-post, and had me and another passer-by side-step for cover. I raised my eyebrows, inwardly reflecting that maybe she needed to use her mirrors and windows to see out of, instead of checking her reflection in the rear-view. She rolled down her window and yelled at me haughtily, “Are you actually looking at my car?!” I think the nonsense of the statement might be why I managed a non-confrontational “Naw, don’t think so, hen” instead of a more fun “Christ Almighty, go buy some driving lessons!” or “Arrrrrgh, you’ve driven over my child!” or even a witty “Feck off!” In defence of my sheep-iness, I was still reeling from the past few days.

In the shop, the heaving masses, long queues, aggressive shoppers, overly-loud music and antics of 3 bored, naughty minxes was a little too much for me. I fetched a bottle of wine and clung to it instead of letting it roll down the conveyor belt. “You can let it go now!” the patient till assistant smiled. I don’t think she *actually* uncurled my fingers from around the neck – I think I might have let go by myself so she could scan it. Oh boy, am I looking forward to sharing that with The Boss later!

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